Boosting your employability | The Careers Service Boosting your employability – Oxford University Careers Service
Oxford logo
What are ‘core employability skills’?

Often known as ‘soft skills’, these are a core set of competencies expected and sought by employers for any position of responsibility and influence. They relate to our ability to interpret the world around us, relate to people effectively and to set, then meet, organisational goals.

We have explained the eight core skills that typically recognised across all job sectors, and listed under essential and desired qualities in job descriptions. The balance of skills and any particular priorities will vary across roles and organisations, so it is wise to discover as much as possible about what is wanted as you explore potential routes and before applying.

Under each skill is a list of ways to prove or improve this skill, all of which are achievable while studying or working at Oxford.

Preparing for academia

Core employability skills are increasingly relevant for academia, even if not made explicit in the job description.

Commercial awareness is vital to understanding the position of an academic department and its development opportunities amidst economic and political change affecting funding streams.

Leadership, management and strategic thinking skills are invaluable to departments preparing submissions for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research and allocating funds accordingly.

For further insight, see our section on Pursuing Academia in What’s next for you?

Developing skills for an academic career

The organisation Vitae exists to support the development of researchers across all sectors. You have access to their resources through Oxford’s membership. Vitae’s ‘Researcher development Framework’ (RDF) sets out in detail the skills required for and gained through research (and broader academic) endeavours; it can be used as a tool for bench-marking your current level in each of the 63 identified skills and familiarising yourself with what will be expected in more senior academic roles.

Perhaps more usefully, you can assess your skill development using a specific lens on the RDF that focuses on leadership, knowledge exchange, public engagement, teaching, intrapreneurship or employability beyond academia.

Talking to existing postdocs and visiting other research groups or labs will help you gain insights into relevant skill-sets for your area and those relating to institutional priorities.  Ask your supervisor and others in your department for suggestions as to who to talk to. Consider showing them a draft CV and ask them to comment on how effectively you are demonstrating your skills.

What do employers beyond academia think about you?

Recruitment is similar to match-making in that the fit has got to work both ways. We tend to dwell on trying to understand which work settings may suit us best, rarely considering how a research background is understood in working worlds outside academia.

Our research amongst employers shows that some may have out-dated, stereotypical views of academic research, for example that it only involves staring down a microscope or at ancient manuscripts. Others see it as involving very long time horizons such as thesis submission after three or four years, not realising that there are multiple project deadlines within this. Another common perception is that researchers always prefer to work independently and have little or no experience of teamwork.

One could laugh at these stereotypes or dismiss them because they do not reflect personal experience. Yet the reason to pay attention is that they will to some extent shape the way your application is seen.

Read more on employer perspectives and careers beyond academia in our Early Career Researchers blog.

Come to Careers Fairs to get the inside track

Meeting people is the best way to understand what every day working life is like in any given sector, and to hear what organisations are looking for in new recruits.

Every year we run a one day a large number of Careers Fairs catering to all interests, plus a one day Careers Conference for Researchers at the end of Hilary term. Scan our online booklets from previous fairs and conferences for full details of the varied organisations participating, and listen to podcasts from employees (some of whom have doctorates) found in ‘our resources’ of our relevant sector pages. Remember; participating organisations want to recruit from Oxford and have paid to have their contact details in the booklet, so will happily respond to your questions by email or phone.

Face-to-face conversations are ideal when exploring your options. Come to as many events as you can and keep an open mind. There’s no need to sign-up for the fairs, and we open bookings for the Conference in January.

At  most fairs we run Researchers@, a pre-fair hour hosted at the same venue by a specialist Careers Adviser to discuss how to get the most from the fair. You can book a place using CareerConnect.

One week before the fair, download the brochure and decide who you’d like to talk to so you can be sure to have your questions answered.

Audit your skills and spot any gaps

Your skills will broaden and deepen as you progress through your research degree and related job.

Check that you understand the broad core employability skill listed on our page and if you’re pressed for time, use these for a quick audit of what you can demonstrate.

We now have two excellent tools for tallying your technical and core employability skills and broader strengths (your values, work style, personality etc).in a fun, systematic way.

Career Weaver is a web-based application to help you identify, take ownership of and articulate clearly some underlying beliefs, preferences and strengths which are important for career planning and your success.

Use relevant exercises in these tools to identify key skills gaps and look for opportunities to fill them using our tips on these pages, or in discussion with your supervisor (especially in your annual Training Needs Analysis) or with a Careers Adviser (by booking an appointment).

Prioritising what is important and being 'job ready'

If you are very busy, take a moment to reassess your priorities: What matters most in the long term, your PI’s project or your ability to contribute to the world?

In the NatureJobs blog, David Bogle, Professor of Chemical Engineering at UCL and chair of the LERU (League of European Research universities) Doctoral Studies Policy Group emphasises the importance of investing time and resources in effective skill-development opportunities for careers in all sectors: “lots of the research might not be going anywhere, (but) the newly trained postdoc will. Every postdoc must eventually move on to a new position and will make a difference there. We need them all to be given skills and confidence to do this for the benefit of us all, whether in business, industry, academia and society in general.”

Be bold in your decision to set time aside for investigating and pursuing activities suited to your needs and interests: all research staff are eligible for professional development time within contracted hours (see leveraging your postdoc), and students are actively encouraged to take up offers of training focusing on personal and professional development as well as the technicalities of the PhD.

Being job-ready also relies on knowing and using the terminology of particular careers sectors in your application and even those early, exploratory conversations. Our top tips are to

  • Look carefully at organisational websites and recent job descriptions for vacancies, then try crafting a skills-based CV for roles beyond academia.
  • Talk to people who work at the interfaces of your academic work and relevant policy or business areas, and develop skills and pleasure in ‘networking’ that is genuinely rewarding (then use these insights to re-work your CV and inform your cover letter or speculative approach).

For evidence on why and how you can network effectively for all concerned, read Sarah Blackford’s article. Her conclusions hold for early career researchers in the sciences and beyond.

How can I fill critical gaps or boost my skills?

We provide suggestions for developing your employability skills  in and around Oxford that require short or longer term commitments. Raising these options in your annual Training Needs Assessment or Professional/Career Development Review (PDR or CDR) will help your supervisor or line manager support you in making wise, timely choices.

If you want to combine core skill-building with professional networking in a sector you care about, think about joining the team of Oxford postdocs and DPhils running www.research-careers.org.

“Being on this friendly and productive team allows me to reach out to former postdocs in organisations of particular interest to me, and is honing my communication and editorial skills. I find the light and flexible work flow easy to manage alongside my job.” (Oxford postdoc, 2018)

To find out more about joining, write to contact@research-careers.org

Consider the value of, and best timing for activities needing a bit more time:

  • The Researcher Strategy Consultancy an experience-based programme to bolster skills needed for technical or management consulting (or other business or policy facing roles) yet rarely honed in early academia, including leadership, strategic thinking and customer focus. Participants work on genuine projects from clients in the private, voluntary and public sectors, achieving specific deliverables to inform decision-making and are quotable on a CV.
  • The Researcher Strategy Consultancy: Health and Life Sciences works in the same way and sources projects from clients working in the health and life science sector. Participants come from all disciplines and humanities or social science applicants are encouraged.
  • Summer and termly Micro-Internships via the Careers Service are open to all students.
  • Oxford’s internships (for students) and external opportunities (many for students and research staff) are advertised on CareerConnect.
  • Follow our advice on how to approach an organisation to negotiate some work experience or a bespoke internship.

Check out the careers training offered by your Divisional training teams and others. Many workshops are now open to all:

Stepping stones from academia to research-intensive roles

Cast your eyes a bit wider to identify emerging opportunities in various work sectors where quantitative or qualitative research skills are being sought in ways you never imagined…

Keep tabs on the UK government’s priority research areas by browsing Innovate UK’s current open competitions, many of which ask for research organisations, small business and/or wider collaboration. You can subscribe to their regular summary via innovateuk@info.innovateuk.org

If your focus is international, look for these themes on similar sites hosted by relevant national governments or research councils and/or in the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

Being in Oxford gives you access to many opportunities for ‘light-touch’ engagement with people engaged in or connected to areas of work that intersect with your research interests or skills. The choice of options can be overwhelming, so…

  • Start by browsing on the list of Oxford’s wide-ranging student clubs and societies then attend a meeting to find out more.
  • Attend one of Enterprising Oxford’s regular events to connect members of the University with local social, environmental and business-related entrepreneurship and browse their site for upcoming training or skill-sharing.
  • And if you are keen to get practical experience in these areas, consider volunteering or becoming a trustee via OxfordHub who offer opportunities to all residents of Oxford and are particularly keen on DPhil students and research staff for many roles.

Some University societies have a core interest in the use and application of technologies; others are more cause-driven in their call for practical innovations.  Oxford Entrepreneurs runs a major conference, a pitching competition, treks to visit starts ups and in November runs the annual Oxfordhack, a student hackathon hosted by the Institute of Mathematics. There is a large, active University Artificial Intelligence Society  which collaborates with other groups in the University and the Said Business School to explore this emerging field and its applications for people from all disciplines.

Look out for Hackathons that are are open to all and require no previous coding experience.

‘Bootcamps’ can be an effective way to explore and equip yourself for using your skills in another sector. Some are quite costly, so do your research before committing yourself. Seek to understand what outcomes previous attendees have achieved, whether participants are introduced to recruiting companies during the course, and how quickly they enter work on course completion.  To start you research, take a look at Switchup.org’s research and reviews online.

This information was last updated on 13 December 2019.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about Boosting your employability

Non-technical roles available at Oxford University Racing

Posted on behalf of Oxford University Racing (OUR). Blogged by Mike Moss on 11/02/2020.

The science and engineering students at Oxford University Racing are working towards racing their first car at Silverstone on 22-26 July 2020. But, they need some non-technical help to get them there.

If you want to demonstrate your drive, leadership and management skills in an exciting context there are Operations Manager and Team Leader roles available for you. If you think you have the organisational and motivational skills to help lead OUR to racing success in the summer, then please contact Team Manager on linh.phamthi@oxforduniracing.com as soon as possible. Closing date is 19 February 2020.

Collaboration Workshops for DPhils and Early Career Researchers

Posted on behalf of Social Sciences Division. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 05/02/2020.

This series of 3 stand-alone workshops for all DPhil students and Early Career Researchers runs throughout Hilary term and are a must if you are either exploring the idea for the first time or have made steps already but would like to know more. All three workshops will take place at the Social Sciences Divisional Offices, Hayes House, 75 George St, Oxford.

What is ‘collaborating’?

10 February, 14:30-16:00  |  Researchers collaborate with all sorts of people and organisations – third-sector, social enterprises, businesses, the list goes on! It can be a rewarding experience, potentially enhancing your research and leading to greater impact. Whether you’ve previously thought about collaborating or not, come along to this workshop to learn about a new side of academia, and how it could enhance your development and future employability. Find out more on the Social Sciences Division website.

What type of collaboration works for you?

14 February, 14:30-16:00  |  This workshop is for DPhil students and Early Career Researchers who want to develop a collaboration with a business or another non-academic organisation but are unsure about what the collaboration might be about/what type of collaboration would suit their needs the most. Find out more on the Social Sciences Division website.

Identifying potential collaborators

16 March, 14:30-16:00  |  Finding the right partner, understanding why they might see value in the collaboration, and convincing them why they should work with you or use your research to improve their services, products, or processes are challenges! Come along to think them through and start laying the foundations. Find out more on the Social Sciences Division website.

China Job Fairs 2020

Blogged by Julia Hilton on 21/01/2020.

With more than 1,000 Chinese students currently studying at Oxford and a significant Chinese alumni group, the Oxford Careers Service is committed to supporting Chinese students and alumni with their job search. We know that navigating the job market in China alongside studying in the UK is extremely challenging. Whilst we see many Chinese students keen to stay to work in the UK, we are fully aware of the need to identify opportunities back in China too. For these reasons we are offering a series of China Careers events in 2020 exclusively for Chinese students, research staff and alumni to attend. The Careers Service is working closely with the Oxford University Chinese Students and Scholars Association and the Oxford University Chinese Society to raise awareness of these China focused events. We are grateful to both groups for their support and hard work.

Warwick China Fair 2020

WHEN: Saturday 22 February, 10:00-15:00
WHERE: Oculus building, University of Warwick

BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW >>

Organised by Warwick, plus partner Universities (including Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Lancaster and Aston Universities), it will enable you to meet both UK and China recruiters with graduate roles in China.

The event includes a panel presentation about the current Chinese job market; a session on visas; plus a series of employer presentations.

Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong Careers Fairs 2020

Organised by the London School of Economics (LSE) in collaboration with partner institutions (University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, Columbia University and University of Chicago) to bring you Careers Fairs in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in August 2020. Full details will be updated on our China Careers pages as soon as we have them later this spring.

If you are fluent in Mandarin and would like to gain some social media marketing experience, we are also offering a China Fairs 2020 Marketing Assistant micro-internship at the Careers Service at the end of Hilary term. To find out more and apply visit CareerConnnect.

Finance Careers: Women’s PhD Mentorship Program

Posted on behalf of Morgan Stanley. Blogged by Julia Hilton on 13/01/2020.

Morgan Stanley are inviting current PhD students to apply for this great opportunity to participate in a one-year mentorship program, which will educate you on the financial services industry and how your degree could apply to a career within Quantitative Finance!

Selected mentees will attend two program events throughout the year, and will be paired with a mentor within the Morgan Stanley Quantitative Finance division. Event sessions include speed networking, job shadowing, mock interviews, and programming tutorials! Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity for mentorship and networking.

Applicants must be:

  • pursuing a PhD in a field such as Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics, or related Quantitative field.
  • completing degree in December 2020 or later.

Selected mentees will be notified in early February. Questions on this program should be directed to Agata.Bartnik@morganstanley.com

To register your interest please visit the following Morgan Stanely web page.

 

AstraZeneca Postdoctoral Programme

Posted on behalf of AstraZeneca . Blogged by Claire Chesworth on 13/11/2019.

AstraZeneca will be advertising approximately 40 new postdoctoral positions in February which are available for anyone completing their PhD in 2020. More details about their programme can be found on the AstraZeneca postdoc careers website.

You might also be interested in attending their Postdoctoral Programme Open Day in Cambridge on 31 January although there are only 30 places available so please register as soon as possible if you are interested. Register for AstraZeneca Postdoctoral Open Day here >>

This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.